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And So They Burned It

As I drove in to work this evening the familiar voice of a piano professor here spilled out of the car speakers that generally only bring me voices of people like Steve Inskeep, Michele Norris, Scott Simon and the other body-less NPR friends that follow me through my days. She was explaining that Annea Lockwood composed an avant-garde piece in which a piano is burned. It’s called “Piano Burning” (which strikes me as a not very avant-garde name for such a piece), and tonight they’re performing it on campus.

Arriving on campus, there was the dilapidated piano standing alone in the middle of the Bald Spot, waiting to be burned.


Pianos I’ve known have always lived in warm, homey spaces, or stood in state on a stage. They’ve always felt like they calmly conceal the potential to thrill you tomorrow or next year or when your grandchildren come to visit. They’ve always promised great things for the people who can touch them with care and skill, and for the people those artists know.

This piano, though, is just sitting in the middle of its rectangle of cleared earth in the middle of a wide, blank field, hunched under the gathering clouds, and waiting to be burned. I’ve never seen such a starkly alone piano.

And then they burned it.

4 thoughts on “And So They Burned It

  1. That is the most awful thing I’ve ever heard, and that’s an awfully depressin gpicture. There are tons of people who would give eyeteeth for a piano (even a dilapidated one)…this seems like such a gross insult. One of those “performance art” pieces like throwing elephant dung at a wall. Perhaps I just don’t “get” art, or maybe I take these things too personally, but ugh. UGH.

  2. This particular piano would have needed to be *completely* re-built before it could have been played, which would probably cost about as much as a new piano. I don’t think any piece of it could have been salvaged. There were apparently two such pianos in Northfield, and this is the one that was chosen.

    If this had been a functional piano, or even one that could have been made functional with some significant work, I’d be right there with you. As it is, it was sad but interesting. At least to me.

  3. It’s sort of the same with books–there are books that are absolutely worth nothing, and it’s no shame to dumpsterize, repurpose or even burn them. When my mom bought the house she lives in now, there was an old upright in the basement. There was a reason the previous residents left it there–it was in terrible shape and too big to be taken out. My mom got it taken out–in pieces.

  4. Yes, Rochelle. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the “no shame” level, because I’m a sentimental sort. But I won’t think too hard about it, either.

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